Gospel for Growth
only the gospel grows believers
What do you love about church? Maybe it's clear biblical teaching. Perhaps it's powerful and moving worship. Or maybe for you it's community: people who truly care for one another in practical ways. Surrounded by so many good things, it's easy to miss the best thing.
The best thing by far is the gospel: the good news that Christ and all in Him is ours. In Colossians 1:6, Paul says that it is this gospel that is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has been doing in you since the day you truly understood God's grace. The gospel is not just for nonbelievers. As believers, we need to hear the good news of Christ and work out its wonderful implications for all of life, if we are to continue to grow toward full maturity in Christ.
As new believers, we were filled with joy when we discovered God's forgiveness and love for us in Jesus Christ. We resolved to love and obey God and learn everything we could about the Bible. We poured our hearts out in worship and enjoyed spending time with fellow believers. We were going to live our whole lives for God and do everything to please Him. But somewhere along the way, while we were seeking to do all these good things, something went missing. It may have been subtle, almost imperceptible. Or maybe something suddenly made it clear. We had started out so well. What happened? The problem is that we took our focus off of Christ and put it on ourselves. We were so focused on what we were doing, or were supposed to be doing, that we lost our sense of wonder at what Christ has done, is doing, and promises to do for us. Focusing on self instead of Christ, we lost our joy and grew complacent.
Here at Bethel our passion is what we call "gospel for growth." In Colossians 1:6, Paul says it is the good news of Jesus Christ that is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing in us since the day we truly understood God's grace. We never outgrow it. "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." Because the gospel fills us with spiritual vitality and keeps us growing toward full maturity in Christ, we are committed to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in every sermon and Bible study—without exception!
The Bad News: All have sinned.
To appreciate the good news of Jesus Christ, we must remember the bad news. God is coming to judge the nations in His righteousness, and all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is no one good, no, not one. We were all dead in our transgressions and sins, happily living to gratify the sinful desires of our hearts with no regard for the consequences. Given our lost condition, there is nothing we can do to avoid God's judgment or earn His favor.
While it may be unpleasant to hear, this bad news can be liberating. It enables us to be honest. We don't have to live up to our own reputations; we no longer have to shift the blame or make excuses to justify our actions. There is no need to keep up appearances or continue living a lie. We can acknowledge our sin and failures. Honesty is invaluable. It enables us to grow: to grow, the real you must meet the real God. It also enables us to enjoy real relationships and genuine community with others.
The Good News: God justifies the ungodly.
There is nothing you can do to avoid God's judgment: the good news is that God has done something! He sent His Son to fulfill the law and to receive judgment in the place of any and all who put their faith in Him. God freely offers Christ to all people, promising that whoever comes to Him shall never fall under His judgment but have eternal life!
The good news that God justifies (freely accepts) the ungodly is the core message of the Bible. God shows His love for us in what while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:5). It is not only nonbelievers who need to hear this good news. This message sustains believers as well. Paul's point in Romans 5 is that if God loved us while we were weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies, how much more assured can we be that He loves us, now that we are reconciled to Him in Christ. We sin and fail God in many ways. But if He loved us while we were enemies, we can rest assured He loves us now that we are His friends.
More Good News: God changes the ungodly.
If God already freely forgives and accepts us in Christ, won't we be lazy and just keep on sinning? No, because there is more good news. God has promised to put His Spirit in us and to move us to walk in His ways (Ezekiel 36:27). He has promised to write His law on our hearts, as deeply as sin once was (cf. Jeremiah 17:1 31:33). What the law could not do (make us good), God did for us. By sending His Son, he condemned sin, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us (Romans 8:3).
How great a Savior is the Lord Jesus Christ! He kept the law for us, in our place, and now makes us like Himself.
Gospel for Growth
When we speak of "gospel for growth," we mean several things:
- First, the gospel is central. We will proclaim this good news every week—without exception. We will seek to work out the implications of the gospel for all of life.
- Second, there is good news for those seeking to grow in Christ. They are not alone. Christ is working through the Spirit to make them like Himself.
- Third, it is by hearing the gospel that we grow (Colossians 1:6). The gospel is the "pure spiritual milk" that we are to crave so as to grow in salvation (1 Peter 2:2). As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:18, it is as we behold Christ that the Spirit transforms us more and more into His image.
To grow toward full maturity in Christ, we need clear biblical teaching. We need rich, deep theology. Powerful worship music moves our hearts. Honest community with brothers and sisters in Christ is part of God's plan for discipleship. And growth does require effort and intentionality on our part: it doesn't happen automatically without us engaging. All these things are necessary for mature discipleship, but only Christ is sufficient to grow us. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, including our continued growth in personal holiness.
We invite you to continue reading and look around this page to learn more about "gospel for growth."
I grew up in a Christian home, and my understanding of salvation and how believers grow was straightforward. God has done His part by sending His Son to die for my sin: now I must do my part and obey God out of gratitude. God sent His Son; Jesus died for my sin; the Spirit gave me a new heart and enabled me to believe. What greater motivation did I need to live my life for God! I wouldn't have quite put in these terms, but when it came to obeying God, I was on my own. To grow, I needed deep theology and practical instruction in Christian living. When the gospel was preached, I assumed it was for the sake of any nonbelievers who were present. Deep insights and practical instruction: those were the parts of the sermon that were for me as a believer. It wasn't until I got to seminary that I discovered the "second benefit of the gospel." Forgiveness is the first benefit. The second benefit is sanctification or growth in personal holiness. This too is something I receive from Christ as a gift of His grace. How arrogant I had been to think that all I needed to grow was deep theology and practical instruction! Subtly, I was living part of my life as a Christian independently of Christ, and I was self-righteous. I needed to hear the good news that I wasn't on my own in trying to show gratitude and obey, but Christ dwelled in me and was working in me by the Spirit to make me like Him. It helped connect my whole life as a Christian to Jesus Christ, my Savior.
—From Pastor Heuss
quotes worth pondering
Harry Reeder, From Embers to a Flame:
“I used to preach the gospel to non- Christians, and then when they became believers, I would essentially put the gospel on the shelf and tell them everything they needed to do now that they were saved. But I realized along the way that that such an approach was preventing them from real growth in Christ because it was cutting them off from the greatest source of nourishment and strength. Now I would say that we can go deeper into the gospel, but we should never go beyond it. The message that unbelieving sinners need to hear is the same message that believing sinners need to hear. In other words, the gospel is for Christians, too. We need to preach it to ourselves, each other, and the lost. We need gospel discipleship, along with gospel evangelism, to be a Christ-centered church. The gospel of grace in Jesus Christ is the foundation, formation, and motivation of the Christian life; therefore, it belongs in discipleship as well as evangelism.”
Tim Keller, Center Church:
“It is possible to hold all the correct individual biblical doctrines and yet functionally lose our grasp on the gospel. The aim is to communicate the gospel clearly and strikingly, distinguishing it from counterfeits and opposites (legalism and relativism).”
Jerry Bridges, Disciplines of Grace:
“What one word describes what unbelievers need most? The universal answer is “gospel.” What one word describes the message we most need to hear as believers? The common answer is “discipleship.” But we need to continue to hear the gospel every day of our Christian lives...It is only the joy of hearing the gospel and being reminded that our sins are forgiven in Christ that will keep the demands of discipleship from becoming drudgery.”